HUGH DALTON isn’t remembered much these days.

A major figure in the late 1930s and 1940s, he became head of the Special Operations Executive during the Second World War. He was Clement Attlee’s first Chancellor of the Exchequer afterwards.

Dalton wasn’t a successful Chancellor, and, if he’s remembered at all, it’s because he resigned after leaking a single detail of the Budget to a lobby journalist just before delivering his speech.

Politicians took things like that seriously in those days. 

In the not-too-distant past, so did newspapers.

In 1996, the Daily Mirror received the whole of Kenneth Clarke’s proposed Budget 24 hours before it was due to be delivered. It conscientiously refused to publish the details and returned the papers to the Treasury.

It’s not as if there haven’t been Budget leaks since – or, at least, heavily trailed predictions of what one would contain.

During Gordon Brown’s time at Number 11, he installed a briefing system for the press around his pre-Budget Statement.

Not providing the detail but providing a steer for coverage.

George Osborne came a frightful cropper when details of his Budget were leaked before delivery. The publicity for his plans (the pasty tax, anyone?), scuppered many of them and led to a new word being coined: omnishambles.

The Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, is a far less combative figure than his predecessor John Bercow.

However, even the milder-mannered Sir Lindsay has been incensed by the Johnston Government’s casual disregard for Parliament when it comes to making key legislative announcements.

He had a particularly warm place in his heart for former Health Secretary Stephen Hancock, whose inveterate announcement of new policies outside the Commons Chamber led him – or usually one of his junior ministers – to appear for a rollicking before the House.

This year, the extent of Rishi Sunak’s Budget’s leaked details has really got up his nose.

Seven press releases were sent to journalists in advance of the Budget with embargo dates of various dates up to Monday.

The key elements of the Budget appeared in the papers before they appeared before Parliament.

Sir Lindsay was livid.

He allowed an urgent question from Labour regarding NHS funding to come before the Commons on Monday (October 26).

The level of proposed NHS funding, combining previously promised money and new money, was the subject of one of the pre-Budget leaks.

Before the question was asked, Sir Lindsay explained the reason for bringing the question forward and – in plain language – let rip at the Government’s conduct.

Here’s what he had to say.

THE SPEAKER SPEAKS OUT

While I am not obliged to explain my decisions about urgent questions, I want to make it clear why I have agreed to this urgent question.

I have made it clear, repeatedly, and as recently as last Thursday, that Ministers must make important announcements first to this Chamber.

Despite those very clear comments, it is evident that the Government and the Treasury briefed journalists on the content of the forthcoming Budget over the weekend, including on NHS funding. Therefore, and in line with what I told the House last Thursday, I am giving the House the earliest opportunity to hold the Government to account.

I repeat to the Government that if they persist in making announcements first outside this House, Ministers will be called to account in this Chamber at the earliest opportunity.

The Chair of Ways and Means, who oversees the Budget, is also very upset by the briefing that has gone out.

At one time, Ministers did the right thing if they briefed before a Budget: they walked. [Interruption ‘They resigned!?’.]

Yes, absolutely! They resigned.

It seems to me that we are now in a position where if they have not got the information out five days beforehand, it is not worth putting out.

Members are elected to this House to represent their constituents and those constituents quite rightly expect their MP to hear it first in order to be able to listen to what the Budget is about and also, in the days following that, to hold the Government to account.

This is unacceptable and the Government should not try to run roughshod over this House. It will not happen.

THE CONSEQUENCES

The Speaker controls the House when it’s in session and can interpret its procedure widely.

When Theresa May was Prime Minister, part of the problem she had was that John Bercow took an activist approach from the Chair, allowing significant time for Ministers to be questioned and – it’s fair to say – harried over legislation and their departmental responsibilities.

The Conservatives like Sir Lindsay. He’s more of a parliamentary traditionalist than his predecessor. But even his patience has its limits.

He’s already repeatedly warned the Government about its conduct and those of its ministers.

Theoretically, he could even have decided that the Budget has been so extensively leaked, only those parts which remained un-leaked could be put to the House of Commons during the Budget speech.

Getting on the Speaker’s wrong side is a bad move.

Sir Lindsay’s bared his teeth and shown his claws. The Government could find its legislative programme shredded if he starts using them, despite its large majority.